The use of the longbow is as much the key to the successes of the English armies in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries as that of the pike is to the successes of the Swiss. Dissimilar as were the characters of the two weapons, and the national tactics to which their use led, they were both employed for the same end of terminating the ascendancy in war of the mailed horseman of the feudal regime. . .
It was not till the last quarter of the thirteenth century that we find the longbow taking up its position as the national weapon of England. . .
To trace the true origin of the longbow is not easy. There are reasons for believing that it may have been borrowed from the South Welsh, who were certainly provided with it as early as A.D. 1150. . . (Gerald de Barri speaks of the Welsh bowmen as being able to send an arrow through an oak door four fingers thick.) -- C.W.C. Oman, The Art of War in the Middle Ages, pp. 116-199.
I have been taking advantage of my chronic insomnia these days by reading in the wee hours of the night. This past week I have been making my way through C.W.C. Oman's classic work, The Art of War in the Middle Ages. One fact stood out to me in Oman's discussion of the Swiss pikemen and, in a later chapter, the English longbowmen: In each case the weapon, the development of tactics to maximize its effectiveness, and the character of the people combined to secure their liberties, not only from foreign invader but from oppressive nobles in their own country.
Likewise did the confluence of an independent people, a highly forested country and the rifle combine to make our Revolution possible. Eventually firearms made the pike and the longbow both obsolete, but not before having provided the basis for each people's liberty.
Likewise, the rifled flintlock is now obsolete as a military arm. Yet the modern cartridge rifle which is its direct descendant is not. Swiss militia today have no memory of pikes, yet their rifles are among the best in the world. Still, they serve a nation which is becoming socialist, losing its way, and now seeks to disarm its people, no longer trusting them with firearms. England has already gone even farther down the path of citizen disarmament.
The question for us is, can the rifle which secured our independence and defended liberty in the intervening centuries still be the instrument of liberty's restoration in the 21st Century? That depends less upon the tool and rather more upon us.
The answer to the question will, I am certain, be known shortly.
I hope you're all ready for the test.
It will be graded on the cruel sliding scale of history.